Sermons

5/30/21 Sermon: Pete and Pete and Pete

Sunday, May 30, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Trinity Sunday
Preacher: Pastor Day Hefner
watch this service online (readings start around 15:37; sermon starts around 22:57)

I grew up mostly in the 90s – which was kind of a golden age of TV shows for kids.  Or, at least, it was a golden age of really, really weird TV shows for kids.  This week, I have been thinking about one of my favorite shows from that era – by far one of the weirdest shows ever on TV – this show on Nickelodeon called “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.”  

It’s a hard show to describe, if you’ve never seen it.  Essentially, the show is based around the lives of these two brothers, who are both named Pete Wrigley – and the show never bothers to explain why they’re both named Pete.  It’s not like they’re adopted or step/half brothers or brothers who didn’t grow up together or anything like that; they are full brothers whose parents apparently just decided to name both of them Pete.  And the show only gets weirder from there.  

Like, for instance, Little Pete has a tattoo of a dancing woman named Petunia on his arm and his best friend is a superhero named Artie – the strongest MAN… in the world – who always wears pajamas and helps Little Pete do things like beat up the ocean at the end of every summer.  Meanwhile, Big Pete has to deal with bizarre bullies like Hat Head and Open-Face, whose defining character feature is that he is always seen eating open-faced sandwiches.  It is such a weird show, and I love it so much.

I enjoyed the show so much as a kid that, several years ago, I actually bought the first couple of seasons of it on DVD.  Rewatching it, I think a lot of its weirdness just sort of went over my head when I was a kid, or maybe it just didn’t seem that weird to me at the time.  But watching it as an adult, the show raises so many questions for me, questions like: Who allowed a 10-year-old boy to get not one, but two very large tattoos??  Like, who paid for that??  Why does their mom have a metal plate in her head that’s capable of broadcasting radio signals??  How did they convince Iggy Pop to have such a regular role on the show, and why??  

The more I watch this show, the less I understand it.  The premise and the characters are so odd, so surreal, but somehow the show also manages to be relatable and touching and funny and even beautiful at times.  It’s a mystery that just keeps drawing me in – even as an adult, it keeps pulling me back in, keeps fascinating me.  And it makes me want to share the show with other people, or to talk about it with other people who remember watching it, if only to be baffled together by how gloriously weird it is.  

This show is definitely a weird thing to be talking about in a sermon.  But I bring it up because today is one of the weirdest Sundays in the liturgical calendar: it’s Trinity Sunday.  It’s the Pete and Pete of Sundays – or I guess it’d the Pete and Pete and Pete of Sundays, if you will.  (Because, you know, Trinity!)

Similar to The Adventures of Pete and Pete, the holy Trinity is a mystery that defies human understanding.  I mean, I have several years of Masters-level theological education under my belt – but when it comes to understanding mysteries like the triune nature of God, I feel like the more I learn, the less I can say for sure I know.  And I don’t think I’m alone in that – Christians have been trying for thousands of years to wrap their heads around the Trinity.  Theologians have wondered and argued and spilled a staggering amount of ink trying to pin down what it means that God is Three-in-One and One-in-Three, but the truth remains elusive.  

And so it’s tempting to just dismiss the whole idea of the Trinity as this confusing bit of dogma that doesn’t really matter all that much.  But there’s something about it that just keeps drawing us in.  There’s always more to God than we expect there to be.  And there’s something genuinely lovely about that, something lovely about the idea of God being not just a single, lonely entity, but somehow instead being this loving community of three persons who are at the same time one.  God is dynamic, a divine relationship of love that spirals out to embrace the entire cosmos.  God is love, a mystery that draws us in, confuses us, fascinates us, fills us with wonder and love, and then sends us back out into the world to witness to what we’ve seen, even though we don’t fully understand it.  The Trinity continually draws us in, sends us out, and gathers us back in again – it’s like breathing or like dancing, this rhythm of being drawn in and sent out.  

I feel that rhythm at work in our texts for today – especially in our first reading and our gospel text.   In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah has this awesome and glorious vision of God seated on a throne, wearing this robe that is so over-the-top fabulous that its hem alone fills the entire temple.  Angels with six wings are flying around all over the place, singing and praising God, and Isaiah understands juuuust enough of what’s happening to realize: “Yikes!  I am not worthy to be seeing all this!”  He cries out, “Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Then an angel takes a hot coal and touches Isaiah’s mouth with it as a sign of forgiveness – ouch! – and with his lips still burning, Isaiah is sent out to tell what he has seen and heard.

In our gospel reading, we see Nicodemus come to Jesus by night.  His curiosity has drawn him in to talk to this teacher and healer from Galilee; and it’s pretty clear that Nicodemus goes into this conversation with Jesus confident that he knows who he’s talking to and what this is all about.  But by the end of the conversation, Nicodemus is completely lost and bewildered.  From the moment Jesus opens his mouth, Nicodemus is astonished and confused by these weird things that Jesus is saying – like what does it mean to be born from above, or born of water and Spirit??  And what does any of that have to do with what I came here to talk to you about??  I can easily imagine Nicodemus walking away from this conversation with a headache.  

Yet as confused as he is, there is clearly something here that captivates Nicodemus.  There is something here that keeps drawing him back in – because this isn’t the last time we see Nicodemus in John’s gospel.  A few chapters after this, Nicodemus is at a festival with some other Pharisees, who end up arguing with the temple police over whether to arrest Jesus for the things he’s been doing.  And Nicodemus – of all people – stands up for Jesus and insists that he at least deserves a fair trial.  By the last time we see Nicodemus, near the end of John’s gospel, he has been drawn deeply into the mystery of the Trinity and Jesus’ ministry – and it has transformed him.  After Jesus is crucified, we see him and Joseph of Arimathea boldly go to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body.  It’s an act of courage and compassion that Nicodemus probably never even dreamed he had in him.

This is the nature of the Trinity.  It’s a holy mystery that draws us in, enfolds us, confounds us, changes us.  It is weird and wonderful and we just can’t look away.  The Trinity pulls us deep into the love of God before sending us out into the world again – sending us to witness with wonder still burning on our lips.  We are endlessly drawn in and sent out and gathered in again – breathed out by the Spirit and gathered in by the arms of God, in a weird and holy dance that has no end.

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